May 19, 2024
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The Day I Learned How to Swim

Fear can be absolutely paralyzing.

Perhaps you can relate to a fear that has held you back from doing the things you’d love to do—but you can’t. Pursue the dreams you’d love to pursue—but you can’t. Create the relationships you’d love to create—but you can’t.

Well here is the simple truth and it’s good news.

You can.

I know.

For as long as I can remember, until I was 28 years old, I was petrified of the deep water. You could always find me at the basketball courts, or the baseball field—but never the pool. When this fear began and where it came from, until this day I have no idea. But believe me, it was very real.

So why didn’t I just ask my counselor in camp to get me swim lessons? Well, I guess I was simply too embarrassed. Meanwhile, 9 years old turned into 15 and into 20 and still no swimming.

The truth is that there was nothing I wanted more than to overcome this fear. I exaggerate not when I tell you that I would dream at night that somehow I had learned how to swim. I would be swimming in pools, lakes and even oceans. Back float, freestyle and yes, even the butterfly.

Incredible as it sounds, I once dreamt so intensely that I had learned how to swim that when I woke up, I actually believed that I could swim—quite well mind you, and it took me three days to realize that it was just a dream. Thank God, I realized it before I jumped into the deep water!

And then it happened.

I was 28 years old, spending the summer in Israel learning at the Mir Yeshiva and traveling around the country. One day a friend of mine invited me to join him on a hiking trip with his cousin, an Israeli soldier who knew the mountains and area well. I got really excited as I love hiking—but then he broke the terrible news that as part of the hike we would be swimming through this awesome river. I heard nothing else after that and I started again with the excuses. I have a chavruta; I just developed cramps in my abdomen; I lost my bathing suit.

And then it happened and I told him the truth, “You know Josh, I actually don’t know how to swim, at all, and so I won’t be able to join.” Incredibly, the moment I opened up and shared my fear, a shift took place almost immediately.

I came back home to America and contacted a friend of mine (who was, of course, a lifeguard) to see if he had the time to teach me how to swim. We went into the pool at Yeshiva University and after about a half hour, I started to get comfortable, then I took my first stroke and then another.
And then I swallowed what seemed like half the pool, but it didn’t matter. I was on the way! And then I made my way into the deep water. And I treaded water—for the first time in my life! I was ecstatic!

I remember like yesterday coming out of that pool and walking over to strangers on the street in Washington Heights literally dancing with this crazy smile on my face: “Hey, do you know how to swim?” They’d respond with a hesitant“Yeah….” And I was like, “Me too.”

A few weeks later I hired a professional swimming coach and he taught me the crawl, backstroke and breaststroke (not the butterfly) in a private pool on the Upper West Side. I started swimming three times a week and I have not looked back since.

I am certainly no Olympic swimmer, but what I felt that day when I overcame my fear no Olympian swimmer could ever feel. My pores opened up. A light shone on me. And so interestingly, not long after, I met my wife, married her and the rest is history.

Baruch Hashem!

Overcoming a struggle, a fear—now that’s where it’s at.

And I learned a transformative life lesson that day. When you push and overcome one obstacle or fear in your life, it has a fantastic ripple effect and other seemingly unrelated areas will open up as well. Incredible.


Rabbi Duvie Weiss is spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Chodosh in Bergenfield. He is a relationship and personal development coach. As a rabbi and mentor for over 20 years he has guided both the young and old to let go of their limiting and often unhealthy beliefs empowering them to achieve their goals and dreams. He can be reached at 201 407 0784, [email protected].

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